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SCENT MARKING IN MEADOW VOLES AND PRAIRIE VOLES: A TEST OF THREE HYPOTHESES

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Most terrestrial mammals deposit scent marks to communicate with conspecifics. We examined the scent marking behaviour of meadow voles and prairie voles, species with different mating systems and social organizations, to determine whether voles scent mark according to the 'targeting' response, the 'avoidance' response, or the 'shotgun' response. The targeting response occurs when the second scent donor deposits more of its scent marks in an area marked by the first scent donor than in an unscented area. The avoidance response occurs when the second scent donor deposits more of its scent marks in an unscented area than in an area marked by the first scent donor. The shotgun response occurs when the second scent donor deposits a similar number of its scent marks in an area containing scent marks of a conspecific and in an area containing no conspecific scent marks. We allowed voles simultaneous access to an arena containing two arms: one of the arms was scented by a conspecific and the other arm was unscented. We recorded the number of marks deposited by the voles in each arm and the amount of time they spent investigating marks deposited previously in the scented arm. Our data provide no support for the avoidance response, but provide support for the shotgun response and the target response. Species and sex differences in the scent marking behaviours of voles when they encounter the scent marks of conspecifics are discussed within the framework that scent marking responses depend on the voles' social organization and mating system, and that these responses may reflect the tactics males and females use to attract mates and compete with same-sex conspecifics.

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